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What is the IDEA?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a piece of multi-part legislation that was authorized by the United States Congress in 1990 and is currently administered by the Department of Education. The legislation was known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) from its passage in 1975 until 1990 when it was renamed and reauthorized. IDEA was created based on a set of established pillars and values that prioritize the well-being and future opportunities of children who face a disadvantage in traditional educational environments.

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Purpose and Mission

The stated objective of IDEA is to make free appropriate public education (FAPE) available to eligible children across the country. The act contains a variety of provisions related to this goal, including enforcement of requirements for state and public services across the country. This obligates schools to assess the individual needs of students who may be struggling with disabilities and provide them with special education that addresses these needs. Aside from improving opportunities for young people, the act also ensures that parents have input throughout the process and must provide approval for special educational plans.

Disabilities Covered by the Act

While the law’s provisions cover a broad spectrum of health issues known to interfere with early learning ability, not all children with special educational requirements are covered by the act. Eligible children must have a diagnosed specific learning disability (SLD) or a health impairment that limits endurance or attention. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are specifically covered by the act, as are significant speech, hearing, and visual impairments. Some developmental disorders and cognitive disability from brain injuries can also make a child eligible under the act.

Four Parts of IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is broken down into four discrete sections that deal with different aspects of the law. Part A contains the general provisions, which define the legislation’s goals and scope, according to the US Department of Education. The second section outlines grant formulas to help states provide free appropriate education to students in their districts. Part C contains specific provisions regarding infants and toddlers with learning disabilities, while Part D focuses on national grants, programs, and outreach to further the legislation’s mission.

Key Principles and Policies

The IDEA statute encompasses many different issues related to special educational needs and services in the United States. Overall, these policies are guided by principles of equality and individuality. In fact, providing children with individualized education programs (IEPs) and least restrictive environments (LRE) for learning are both pillars of the act. IDEA also includes a number of specific procedural safeguards to protect the interests of children, their parents, and school districts. The law also includes provisions regarding participation by parents and ensures confidentiality of sensitive information for those included in special education programs.

Designing a public educational system that addresses the needs of every student is a challenging prospect, but this act is one of the primary pieces of legislation that supports this objective. Since its inception decades ago, IDEA has become an established component of the national educational system that impacts millions of children every year.